Just before three o’clock yesterday when South Africa took the second new ball it seemed unlikely that it would be Graham Onions batting to save the Test match for England. Jonathan Trott was well set and Paul Collingwood was looking to continue his recent good form at the other end, eyes were drawn to the clock to see how long it was until the captains would be allowed to shake hands on a draw.
That was until the dramatic collapse, the sort of which only England are capable of. A fine catch dismissed Trott, the below par Ian Bell edged behind, Matt Prior soon followed, as did Stuart Broad and when Graeme Swann was trapped in front England were looking down the barrel. They had contrived to lose four wickets for only thirteen runs and South Africa were odds on to claim the honours in the first Test. Yet the Durham boys Onions and Collingwood fought together to claim a thrilling draw for the tourists.
A draw is not a bad result in the back yard of the team ranked second in the world, especially when, replying to South Africa’s 418, England found themselves reduced to 242-8. They had Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson to thank for keeping them in the game at that point but it has to be said that England’s original team selection was wrong.
Unless you posses the talent of Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne it is extremely hard to win Test matches with four bowlers. It is true that Andrew Flintoff’s decision to retire has severely affected the balance of the side but, to compete regularly with the likes of South Africa, England need to employ five bowlers. The question is, who comes in, who goes out and can England go into a Test match with Stuart Broad batting at seven?
If Andy Flower does decide England need to change tact, Ian Bell looks set to be the man to miss out. A combined score of seven is not good enough and he is yet to answer the critics who claim he cannot handle the pressure of Test matches. Another potential loser is Alastair Cook. It is doubtful he will lose his place but on form alone he must be second in line behind Bell. He failed to impress against Australia and, apart from against West Indies, he hasn’t scored a century since December 2007. He is vice-captain though and looks unlikely to drop out, leaving Ian Bell’s neck firmly on the line.
The next question is then, who would come in? The options are Luke Wright, Ryan Sidebottom, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, James Tredwell or Mark Davies. From these the realistic options are probably Wright and Sidebottom. Wright brings balance as he can both bat and bowl, but Sidebottom brings true bowling prowess. The downside of selecting the curly haired seamer is of course the effect it has on England’s batting line up: notably Broad playing at seven. Number sevens should be averaging mid-twenties, be more than capable of fifties and able to save games – think Mark Boucher and Adam Gilchrist. Broad is not yet a number seven.
This is why I think Luke Wright will be getting a late Christmas present come Boxing Day in Durban. He can slot in at seven and will be useful as the fifth bowler. His selection is the more conservative choice but given England are in South Africa it is the selection I believe Flower will plump for. England were under par at Centurion and need a vast improvement if they are contemplating victory, some changes are clearly needed so that it’s not the bat of Graham Onions saving the day for Strauss’ men.